Lancaster (Calunium) Roman Fort

Flavian Auxiliary Fort (AD 69–96) and Saxon Shore Fort

Calunium  is the name of the Roman Fort in Lancaster, also known as Wery WallGalacum, Calunium or Calvnivm , is the modern name given to ruined former Roman fort atop Castle Hill in Lancaster.

First Flavian Fort

The  first Flavian (i.e. Agricolan) turf and timber fort was probably established on the hill top around 71-73 AD. Its external ramparts would be of battered clay, with the internal part strengthened by timber.  Further defense came from deep ‘V’ shaped ditches surrounding it. The fort would have the classic four gate entrances, one on each side. The position meant that it could  protect the River Lune crossing point to just to the north.  The barrack-blocks of the fort were burnt in late-Hadrianic/early-Antonine times, but the samian pottery record shows uninterrupted coverage from Trajanic and Hadrianic through to Antonine times, and there is nothing to suggest that this particular fire within the Lancaster fort was anything but accidental.

The fort building inscription displayed below, which dates to the Emperor Trajan (AD 98 to 117) may have occurrd during one of the many revolts in the north of England instigated by the rebellious Brigantes tribe.

RIB 604 - Lancaster Fort Building Inscription (102-117AD)

To the Emperor Nerva Trajan Caesar Augustus Germanicus Dacicus, consul … acclaimed Imperator ..

IMP NER[...]
AVG [...]

Trajan was Roman emperor from 98 to 117.
Now in Lancaster Museum.

The Second Severan Fort

There is evidence of rebuilding perhaps during the Severan period, and a later inscription dated to 262-6AD shows that building continued.  The second fort was much bigger. It was built over the top of the first one, and was to begin with another turf and timber construction. The east and west walls would follow the same line of the old fort, but the northern wall was placed 123 feet north of the old one, and presumably the same happened on the south side.  There was later a short period of abandonment as the Romans pushed their frontier further north, but when they returned they rebuilt in stone.

By the latter part of the third century, some restoration work was undertaken by the resident garrison – Ala Gallorum Sebosiana, not upon the fort itself, but seemingly upon the bath-house and local governmental buildings outside the military installation (see RIB 605).

Fourth Century Infantry Fort

A large fort is thought to have been built at Lancaster around 343, at the same time as the Saxon Shore Forts were being built in south-east England.

By the fourth century the garrison cavalry unit had been withdrawn and replaced by a smaller infantry battalion, which meant that to make the fort defensible it had to be reduced in size. During this operation the constructors levelled the site then dug-out the defensive ditch for the new fort, cutting through the ruins of the old bath-house as they did so (vide summus).

This third fort was a coastal defence fortification that was also used as a supply base for the Romans. Built around 330 AD it would continue to be used into the early 400s. By this stage in history, the threat was no longer coming from the indigenous British people, but from overseas. In the east it was the Saxons, but in the west it would be raiders from Ireland. A defensive line along the west of Britain included not only Lancaster but also Holyhead (Roman Caer Gybi) and Cardiff ( Roman Waliau- a fort thought to be very like the one at Lancaster).  Numerus Barcariorum were now the only garrison.

The ‘Saxon Shore’ fort was constructed on a different alignment from the last one and reused stone from it. The site extended further down the northern and eastern slopes of Castle Hill  than previous forts, reaching down to give greater protection to  a now expanded  port and military zone. New features included large protruding bastions on which to mount defensive artillery

The shore forts here may have hosted a fleet rather than providing land-based protection against pirate raids  (see RIB 601 – Numerus Barcariorum). They may have engaged in assaults on the pirates as well as provided lighters to larger vessels. The barged would have been able to travel further upstream then sea going vessels.

The Garrison Units of the Roman Fort in Lancaster

Ala Augusta Gallorum Proculeiana (AD71 – 125AD)

The first fort’s garrison was the auxiliary cavalry unit Ala Augusta Gallorum Proculeiana. The regiment formed in Gaul (hence Gallorum ) by The first Emperor Augusta (hence Augusta), and named after its first commander Proculeiana (hence Proculeiana). It was posted to Lancaster soon after it was built in AD71. The regiments Standard compliment would be 480 in 16 troops (turma) of 30 cavalry men. Later the ala moved to Chesters, probably about 125AD.

RIB 3185 - Tombstone for Insus

To the shades of the dead. Insus son of Vodullus, a citizen of the Treveri, trooper of the Cavalry Regiment Augusta, [troop] of Victor, curator. Domitia [his heir had this set up].


Dis Manibus: The unabbreviated formula is generally Flavio-Trajanic, and this instance must be Domitianic, since the fort was founded in 75/80, and Insus, like his 30-year old comrade Apollinaris (see below), had probably joined the regiment in the Rhineland before it came to Britain.

Insus Vodulli [fil]ius: The names of Insus and his father seem to be unique. Both are presumably from the Treveri tribe, which places him as originating from western Germany. Insus was not a Roman citizen: he does not have the tria nomina, or triple name a Roman citizen would have. Citizenship was awarded on retirement from the Roman auxilia, so it seems likely Insus died in service.

Curator: a supply officer equivalent to a quartermaster, a junior non-commissioned officer. This role required some responsibility and literacy.

cive(s): An alternative form of civis, and frequent in epitaphs; for Britain, compare the cavalry tombstones RIB 108 and 159. The form cives Trever is well attested elsewhere, for example in CIL iii 4391, the epitaph of the trooper Flavius Attius. The omission of the final S seems to be a slip without phonetic significance, perhaps by confusion with the equivalent formula natione Trever (CIL xiii 6235); note that eques is correctly spelled. 3.

alae Aug(ustae): An Ala Augusta was stationed at Lancaster in the first century AD, and was only described as ‘Victor’ for a brief period, which allows us to estimate the date the tombstone was put up to 80AD.

[t(urma)] Victoris / Troop of Victor: There was a troop of this name in the contemporary ala Sebosiana at Carlisle, but the name Victor was understandably popular with soldiers.

curator: An immunis who might deputise for the decurion, judging by the renuntium formula at Vindolanda (Tab. Vindol. 127, 128, 574), where optiones and curatores report on state of readiness ‘including baggage’, but his duties are not really known. He was quite a junior under-officer, judging by CIL viii 2094 = ILS 2518 (Numidia), the career of a signifer turmae who had already been curator and then armorum custos.

Domitia: Domitia was evidently responsible for Insus’ tombstone, and thus his heir. She may have been his sister, but an informal ‘wife’ is more likely: compare the will of the cavalryman Antonius Silvanus, which makes his son his sole heir, but orders that his property be collected and given to Antonia Thermutha, ‘the mother of my heir’. The epitaph is unusual in not stating Insus’ age or years of service, but it would have concluded with an abbreviated statement of Domitia’s responsibility as heir (h(eres)).

Ala Gallorum Sebosiana – The Wing of Sebusian Gauls

The Sebusiani or Segusiani were a people who lived in the Loire valley of Gaul, and are mentioned by Caesar in his Gallic Wars (book I, chap.10), also by the historian Pliny (book IV, c.18). The regiment formed in Gaul (hence Gallorum ) and named after its first commander Sebosiana (hence Sebosiana).This unit are also attested at Lancaster on undated lead sealing (RIB 2411.88; not shown) and tiles also undated (RIB 2465.2; also not shown). Of particular note is the altar dedicated by an ex Decurion (vide RIB 600 infra) and the undated tombstone of a cavalryman (vide infra), both of which may represent men serving in this unit.

RIB 605 - Building Inscription; 262-6AD

[…] for the refurbishment of the bath-house, and the Basilica which had collapsed through age, rebuilt from the ground by the cavalrymen of the Sebussian Wing of Postumus¹ under Octavius Sabinus the most illustrious of men, supervised and administered by Flavius Ammausius, prefect of cavalry, dated eleven days before the Kalends of September,² when the consuls were Censorinus for the second time and Lepidus (also) for the second time.³

  1. The Postumus in question was the founder and emperor of the break-away Gallic Empire between 260 and his death in 269.
  2. The 22nd of August – of some year between a.d. 262 and 266 (incl.)
  3. The consuls in question are those of the Gallic empire, hence the date cannot be identified with much accuracy, but is believed to be sometime between 262AD and 266. The archaeological context is discussed by Shotter in Jones and Shotter, Roman Lancaster (1988), 208-11 with Pl. 31. For a leaden sealing and stamped tiles of the ala Sebosiana at Lancaster, see RIB 2411.88 and RIB 2465.1-2.
The inscription below may refer to Ala Gallorum Sebosiana or a different Gallic contingent.

RIB 606 - Funerary inscription for Lucius Julius Apollinaris

To the spirits of the departed: Lucius Julius Apollinaris, a Treveran, … aged 30, trooper of the Cavalry Regiment Augusta¹ , lies buried here.
To the spirits of the departed and to Lucius Julius Apollinaris of the Treveri, thirty years old, a cavalryman of the Wing,¹ to his friends he lives on, he lies here.

AE AV[...]
H [   ]

Possibly the Ala Gallorum Sebosiana although Huebner says this was not ala Sebosiana, though a Trever probably belonged to a Gallic contingent. West suggests ala Augusta, and Watkin inclines to agree. Birley thinks that the unit was probably ala Afrorum.

It was found in a cellar in Pudding Lane (now Cheapside), Lancaster.

Numerus Barcariorum

RIB 601 - Altar dedicated to Mars by Sabinus and the men of a Numerus Barcariorum

To the god Mars, Sabinus the commander and the men of the unit of lightermen (Numerus Barcariorum) under his command erected (this altar).
To the god Mars, under the care of the praepositus¹ Sabinus and the soldiers of the Company of Bargemen, this was placed.


Sabinus should not be identified with Octavius Sabinus, governor of Britain (RIB 605).

Barcarii: Lightermen from the River Tigris. The unit should not be identified with the Numerus Barcariorum Tigrisiensium: see Shotter, Brit. 4 (1973), 206-9, who notes (from Mann) ILS 9227, an eq(ues) al(a)e … magi(s)ter barcarioru(m).

An Numerus Barcariorum altarstone (above), was found three miles (5km) upstream of the Calunium fort; undated, the style and lettering suggests the third century. The function of this irregular unit was probably military as well as naval, being in effect, marines.

There was a possibly different Numerus Barcariorum Tigrisiensium stationed at Arbeia (South Shields, Tyne & Wear) and reported in the Notitia Dignitatum.

Cohors Tertiae Nerviorum – The Third Cohort of Nervians

Tribunus cohortis tertiae Neruiorum, Alione

“The tribune of the Third Cohort of Nervians at Alione.”

(Notitia Dignitatum xl.53; 4th/5th C.)

If we accept that the Lancaster fort should be identified with the Alione entry in the Notitia Dignitatum (vide supra), then this document provides us with the name of the fourth-century garrison, the Fourth Cohort of Nervians. This five-hundred strong infantry regiment were recruited from among the men of the Nervii tribe from central Belgica.

RIB 608 - Inscription

No translation


Haverfield regards the reading as corrupt. Addenda from RIB+add. (1995): Delete. It was a pipeclay(?) figurine (now RIB 2456.8).

The Gods of Calunium (Lancaster) Roman Fort

RIB 602 - Altar dedicated to Mars Cocidius

To the holy god Mars Cocidius Vibenius Lucius, beneficiarius¹ of the governor, willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow.

  1. A beneficiarius was a soldier, usually a legionary, seconded for special duties by favour (beneficium) of a specific senior officer; in particular the beneficiarius consularis, an officer on the governor’s staff, who might be out-posted.

Five Roman altarstones have been recovered from Lancaster, one dedicated to the Roman war god Mars (see RIB 601), another to Mars Cocidius a conflation of the classical god and a popular Germanic god of war (see RIB 602), and one also to the iron-age god Ialanus (see RIB 600).

The inscriptions on the remaining two altarstones are totally undecipherable (RIB 603 et 607; not shown).

The River-God Ialanus

The altarstone RIB 600, the text and translation of which is shown above, possibly provides evidence which supports the identification of Lancaster with the Calunio entry of the Ravenna Cosmography. The similarity between the words Ialanus and the Aliona of the Notitia Dignitatum should also be noted.

It is very likely that Ialanus, the ‘most sacred and inimical god’ referred to on this stone, was a river-god, the same river-god who has lent his name over the years to this beautiful place at the mouth of the River Lune.

Other Roman Inscriptions from the Neighbourhood

In addition to the epigraphic evidence from the environs of Lancaster itself, two milestones or honorific pillars both dated to the mid-third century have been discovered near Ashton with Stodday, about 3 miles south of Lancaster beside the Roman road to Walton-le-Dale; these are both shown below.

RIB 2270 - Milestone of Philip

For the Emperor Caesar Marcus Julius Philippus Pius Felix our Augustus¹.

  1. Philip the Arab, the praetorian commander of the 19 year old emperor Gordian III, who became emperor in February 244AD after the soldiers chose him in preference to Gordian, who was then executed. Philip was killed in battle at Beroea in Macedonia sometime during Sept/Oct 249AD.

RIB 2271 - Milestone of Decius

For the Emperor Caesar, our Lord, Gaius Messius Quintus Decius Trajanus Pius Felix Invictus Augustus¹.

  1. The emperor Decius, who succeeded Philip the Arab following his death in battle, and was himself killed in battle against the Goths at Abrittus in Moesia some 20 months later in June 251.

Also, there is a suspected Romano-British shrine at Cockersand Moss, about seven miles south-south-west of Lancaster at the mouth of the River Lune.

Classical references for Calunium (Lancaster) Roman Fort

The fourth/fifth century Notitia Dignitatum has an Alione between the entries for Glannoventa (Ravenglass, Cumbria) and Bremetenacvm (Ribchester, Lancashire), while the seventh century The Ravenna Cosmography (R&C#112) list a Calunio between Cambodvnvm (Slack, West Yorkshire) and Galava (Ambleside, Cumbria). Considering the placement of these individual entries in their respective itineraries it is possible that the Calunio of the R.C. and the Alione of the ND both refer to the same geographical location, and that the location involved was Roman Lancaster. Epigraphic evidence has been found at Lancaster which may support this premise (see Gods below).

Attention should also be paid to the Roman milestone found four miles to the north-east of Lancaster on the road to Calacvm (Burrow in Lonsdale; RIB 2272), which suggests that the Roman name for Lancaster began with the letter L; perhaps Lunium?

The modern name first appears in the Domesday Book of 1086AD where it appears Loncastre, a compound of a river-name (Welsh/Gaelic possibly meaning ‘healthy, pure’) and Old English cæster or ‘old Roman fort’. The full meaning of the modern name then, is ‘the Roman fort on the River Lune’. It is very likely that the Latin name has the same derivation.

RIB 604 - Lancaster Fort Building Inscription (102-117AD)

To the Emperor Nerva Trajan Caesar Augustus Germanicus Dacicus, consul … acclaimed Imperator ..

IMP NER[...]
AVG [...]

Trajan was Roman emperor from 98 to 117.
Now in Lancaster Museum.

The Numismatic Evidence at Calunium (Lancaster) Roman Fort

A large number of coins have been recovered from the Lancaster environs; 64 during excavations in the late 1920’s, 272 from casual finds and another 34 from the Mitchell’s Brewery excavation of 1988; a total of 370 Roman coins, of which 42 are silver denominations, the remaining all being copper issues. The coins range from republican silver issues (pre 44BC) to those of Honorius (Imp. 395-423AD).

References for the Roman Fort at Lancaster

  • The Roman Inscriptions of Britain by R.G. Collingwood and R.P. Wright (Oxford 1965);
  • Roman Coins from North-West England by David Shotter (Lancaster 1990) pp.14-20.

Roman Roads near Calvnivm?

NE (4) to Caton NE (12) to Calacvm (Burrow in Lonsdale, Lancashire) S (21) to Walton Le Dale (Lancashire)

Sites near Lancaster (Calunium) Roman Fort